Discover more from Local Authority
Medway Council ‘very likely’ to declare bankruptcy
But at least there are cows at Capstone Park
Editor’s note: We talk about Medway Council’s finances a lot here, because they are - to put it mildly - in a bit of a state. With the looming risk of bankruptcy on the horizon, today we look at what that might mean for our local services. Further down we have news on the sale of Grain Tower, cows being reintroduced to Capstone Park, and details of the latest covid booster drive. As ever, we couldn’t do this work without our generous paid supporters, so if you value these updates, please consider joining hundreds of others in supporting a new way of doing local journalism for Medway.
Medway Council ‘very likely’ to declare bankruptcy
Last year, we raised the alarm that Medway Council was perilously close to going bankrupt. At the time, certain politicians declared us and others raising concerns about the issue as being ‘alarmist’.
New documents from Medway Council this week set out just how desperate the financial situation now is. It has been widely reported that the authority faces a £17m budget deficit this year, and difficult decisions will be made to balance the budget.
With a £17m budget deficit and only £10m left available in reserves, balancing the budget this year will be challenging enough, but it is now clear that even if that target is met, future years are going to present an even bigger challenge.
The budget deficit at Medway Council is set to increase year on year, with a near £39m deficit being forecast for next year, rising to a near £72m one by the 2027/28 financial year.
These kinds of figures are completely unsustainable for any local council with limited powers to raise it’s own revenue and next to no reserves left in the bank following the previous administration running them down year on year.
As a result, Medway is now facing the serious risk of having to issue a Section 114 notice. An S114 is issued when a council cannot balance their budget, and is effectively a signal of bankruptcy. Councils issuing an S114 need to stop almost all non-essential spending, drop essential spending to the bare minimum, reduce capital spending, freeze recruitment, and seek new ways to maximise income.
Medway Council’s Medium Term Financial Outlook 2023-2028 document now rates the risk of this happening as AII, meaning it is now ‘very likely’ and the impact of doing so would be ‘major’.
In this worst case scenario, Medway Council would need to reduce spending to only the bare minimum of statutory services: children’s and adult social care, education, housing and planning, waste collection, libraries, and road maintenance. Anything else, from leisure facilities to park maintenance to arts and culture would all be off the table.
Further, if Medway Council would still struggle to pass a balanced budget, the authority could see government intervention in how things are run, as has happened in a number of places with councils have arrived at this position.
There is still a chance that Medway won’t get to this scenario, but it now feels incredibly difficult to avoid without some quite spectacular financial rabbits being pulled from hats. Even if the authority can stave it off this year or next, it seems likely in subsequent years if nothing changes.
Which leaves the one great hope for the new administration of Medway Council. Authorities up and down the country are in the same position following years of central government cuts to their funding. With a General Election on the horizon next year, it is possible than a new government will take a different view on local government funding that allows Medway to find a more sustainable route for the future.
It’s hard to know exactly what the future might hold, but attempting to dodge bankruptcy looks to be the pre-eminent focus for Medway Council for several years to come.
Local Authority is a reader-supported publication about Medway news, politics, culture, and more. To receive new editions and support our work, please consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
One of the cheapest properties in Medway
The incredible Grain Tower sold at auction this week for less than most homes in Medway if you want to get a sense of just how messed up our property market is.
For the price of a run-down one-bedroom flat in Chatham, the buyer of Grain Tower now owns a giant complex with the rather desirable address of ‘No. 1, The Thames’.
Okay, so there are a few drawbacks. The former military tower is in a bit of a state, it’s only accessible by a tidal causeway, and urban explorers like to pop in on an almost daily basis. But for £159,000, you expect a few minor issues.
There is no word on the identity of the new owner or what they intend to do with it. Accessibility obviously limits its use, even if that didn’t stop this delightful level of optimism from the auctioneers: ‘potential for alternative uses or development subject to consents.’
The ownership of the tower has changed a number of times in recent years, with each buyer struggling to come up with a viable plan to renovate it before selling it on for less than they paid for it.
We’ll see if things turn out any differently this time around.
Capstone cattle congregation
If you enjoy wandering around Capstone Farm Country Park, you’ve probably thought ‘This place is pretty cool, but it could really use some cows’. If so, you’re in luck!
Cattle have been reintroduced to the park for grazing for the first time in ten years as part of a scheme with the Kent Wildlife Trust.
The longhorn cows will spend the next few weeks grazing a field near the Orchard car park, with an intent for them to become a permanent fixture if things go well.
Visitors to the park will be able to see the cattle but are encouraged to give them space so they can continue their grazing work without interruption.
The scheme follows a similar one between the Kent Wildlife Trust and the National Trust to reintroduce highland cows to nearby Cobham Wood, which are also well worth a visit.
It might be easy to miss given everyone seems to have given up on the idea that we’re still living in a pandemic, but bookings are now open for autumn covid vaccinations.
The start date has been brought forward as cases are currently surging thanks to the new BA2.86 variant that everyone seems to have currently.
As last year, these vaccines are only available to those eligible, which in this case is anyone over 65 or those under who are at increased risk. Crucially, it is also worth noting that the booking system also asks if you look after anyone vulnerable and if you say yes, it lets you book a booster, no questions asked.
Slots are available at pharmacies across Medway, with others like Boots joining the service from next month. Given the amount of covid currently circulating once again, you can do far worse than to get yourself boosted.
📄 The consultation for the new Medway Council Local Plan is now open. Given the online consultation is one of the most user-unfriendly systems we’ve ever seen, we wish you the best of luck in attempting to respond to it.
🏠 Medway Council’s planning department continues to be ineffective, granting retrospective permission to a house in Cliffe that was built without planning permission. Neighbours claim the additional storey on the house overlooks their homes, but Medway Council allowed it anyway.
🏥 Care at Medway Hospital is back in the spotlight again after a woman being treated at the hospital had to dial 999 from her bed to get someone to look after her.
⛲ Chatham’s Paddock redevelopment will no longer feature a water fountain. The feature has been dropped from the plans after the £400,000 cost was deemed too expensive.
🛒 Wilko in Strood will close this Sunday (24 Sep) with the Gillingham store following on Tuesday (26 Sep).
🍹 A new bar in Rochester will only allow men in accompanied by a woman. Mavericks Ladies Lounge, which is opening in the former Latino Joes location, are trying to create a safe space for women on the high street.
🍔 McDonalds is set to open at Hempstead Valley. The chain is set to take on the unit formerly used by Bird at the complex.
Paid supporters of Local Authority receive extra editions of the newsletter every week. This week, Steven sat down with Chatham Town FC owner and manager Kevin Hake to discuss his taking on of the club, their recent success, and what the future holds. We also published a piece looking at the irrational border of Medway and how our neighbours in Gravesham, Tonbridge & Malling, Maidstone, and Swale can exploit it to relieve their own pressures.
Becoming a paid supporter helps us put this project on a sustainable financial footing and ensures we can keep it thing running for the long term. It costs less than £1 per week when joining us for a year. Please consider it if you can!
Tomorrow (Saturday 23 September), we’ll be at the Festival of Chatham Reach at Sun Pier. The all-day family-friendly event features free river sailings, live music, various food stalls, games, and a market where you’ll find us. We’ll be selling our full range of Medwayish gifts and items, including some not available on our online store yet. We’ll also have discounted subscriptions for the premium version of Local Authority. Come and say hi if you’re around!
Music that soundtracked the creation of this newsletter: Love and Other Hideous Accidents by The Just Joans and Club Anthems 2001 by Ballboy.